Restaurant scene changes

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— October is a month when some local restaurants close for cleaning, others look for a new home and others disappear for good. In some cases, new operators decide to give it their best shot in Ski Town USA.

The news on Lincoln Avenue this October runs the gamut from Italian cooks who will soon be belting out Tony Bennett tunes, to a restaurant with a slap shot theme. Closer to the mountain, a major acquisition has brought a giant seafood chain to town, although customers will never know it.

The Chart House restaurant in Steamboat Springs has become a small part of one of the biggest full-service seafood restaurant chains in the nation. Landry's Restaurants Inc., closed on its purchase of the 38 Chart House restaurants nationwide in August. The purchase price, including one "Pehoe's" restaurant, was $45.5 million plus the assumption of outstanding debt.

Landry's, based in South Texas, has been in an acquisition mode this year. The Chart House is just one of three chains the company digested in 2002. Since the sale of the Chart House restaurants was finalized, Landry's has purchased the 27-unit Saltgrass Steak House and Seafood restaurants from MetroNational Corp. for $75 million. Landry's began with a single restaurant in South Texas in 1980. The company reports it is on pace to realize $1 billion in sales in 2003. Landry's stock trades on the New York Exchange under the trading symbol, LNY.

Most Landry's restaurants are recognizable for a sign that resembles a movie marquee. Other brands in the Landry's chain include Joe's Crab Shack, The Crab House and Willie G's.

The Chart House in Steamboat will continue with the same name.

So far, manager Karen Puffett said the restaurant has changed little. The menu has expanded to include more surf and turf combinations, she said. Puffett has been with the restaurant since it opened 14 years ago, originally as a food server. She has been in management for four years. During the peak season, the restaurant employs about 50 people.

Mambo Italiano

At the other end of the spectrum, two new independent operators are remodeling buildings recently vacated by other local restaurants.

Chef Brent Holleman has closed the Alpine Bistro fine dining establishment at 521 Lincoln and will lease his building to two men from Whitefish, Mont., who will open a family style Italian restaurant called Mambo Italiano.

Billy Castronova said this week the restaurant is based on a store he and his associates opened in Whitefish 14 months ago. Customers will find New York style pizza in the $5 to $9 price range, and authentic "immigrant recipe" pasta dishes in the $8 to $12 range, Castronova said.

"These are the pasta dishes my grandmothers cooked," Castronova said. "And we sing when we cook."

Mambo Italiano will serve lunch and dinner, then shift to a late night menu when several tables are removed to clear out a dance floor. A D.J. booth will allow the restaurateurs to adapt the music format to Steamboat preferences.

Castronova operates his own restaurant consulting business. His father, also named Billy (Pops) Castronova, and Doug McNichol are the owners of the restaurant.

Castronova expects the restaurant to seat between 60 and 80 people. However, construction is under way on a covered deck immediately adjacent to the restaurant that will boost that number. And a building expansion is a possibility in the future, he said. They would like to open the new restaurant during the first week in December.

Castronova said the restaurateurs were attracted to Steamboat because it's very similar to Whitefish, only bigger. Like Whitefish, Steamboat has a large ski area and has retained a genuine community, Castronova observed.

Holleman said the Alpine Bistro had its best winter ever last season and he's not about to get out of the business. However, he had grown to realize that the physical limitations of the old Alpine Bistro kitchen as well as the dining room prevented him from owning the kind of restaurant he aspires to.

Holleman plans to enjoy the holidays before seeking work at another restaurant. His ultimate goal is to own another restaurant in Steamboat within three to five years, only on a grander scale.

"My passion and love is cooking," Holleman said. "I had a great time and made a lot of friends of customers over the years. I'm excited for the next chapter of my career."

Seasons at the Pond

Landlord Tom Sharp has leased the El Rancho building to a family group that intends to open a breakfast and lunch spot in the main dining room and convert the bar to a family oriented sports bar that will hold special appeal for the hockey crowd.

The extended family of a longtime local couple, Marty and JoAnne Boomgarden, hope to open Seasons at the Pond in November. Their sons-in-law, Bill Lepper (married to the Boomgardens' daughter, Mary Jo) and Thong Pruong (married to the Boomgardens' daughter, Kim) will be the primary operators of the restaurant.

Pruong has 15 years of experience in restaurants and hotels and will be responsible for the front of the house. Lepper, who is a New York trained executive chef, will oversee food preparation as well as marketing the restaurant.

The word "seasons" in the restaurant's name refers to the breakfast and lunch house and "pond," a reference to old school hockey rinks, signifies the sports bar.

"We're trying to create two separate identities under one roof," Lepper said.

He moved his family from Phoenix where he owned and operated three successful restaurants simultaneously. Bill and Mary Jo met here almost 14 years ago and have always wanted to raise their children in Steamboat. Now is the time, he said.

Seasons will serve upscale breakfasts items like eggs benedict and smoked salmon, and a nice lunch. It will not be open for dinner, except for specially arranged parties.

Lepper has a fine dining background and will bring several of his former chefs to Steamboat to anchor the kitchen. He will take reservations for parties and anticipates hosting winemaker dinners.

The sports bar will have a decidedly different feel and while the fare will be typical of the genre, Lepper and Truong have no intention of competing with Steamboat's established sports bars. Instead, they want to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable bringing young children along.

Lepper has traveled all over North America building a museum quality collection of hockey memorabilia, which will be displayed on the walls of the Pond. But the restaurant will take an egalitarian approach in terms of displaying all kinds of sporting events on the television.

Truong is an accomplished videographer who looks forward to taping local youth hockey games and playing them at Seasons at the Pond."

French Bistro

A long-standing Steamboat fine dining establishment quietly disappeared in late summer when Rebecca and Marco Pauvert closed the French Bistro at Mattie Silks.

And while Mattie's appears to have vanished in name after a couple of decades in Ski Time Square, Rebecca Pauvert said this week she and her husband are determined to reopen the French Bistro, minus the fine dining dinner aspect. "We're being aggressive right now about finding a new location," Rebecca Pauvert said. "But we're re-thinking the concept. We know what we can do. We were very successful in Philadelphia with three locations and 24 employees. We just need to find out how to do it here."

Rebecca Pauvert said Mattie's did a good dinner business last winter and she would not rule out a return to fine dining dinner service in the future. Marco Pauvert averaged 50 informal lunches a day downstairs in "Pour Vous," a French butcher shop and market. Marco Pauvert is a master butcher/charcutier qualified to make his own pates. He gained a following for his lunch plates including fine cheeses from around the world, and salads prepared by his wife.

Business declined in spring and summer with the disappearance of foot traffic and a scarcity of parking spaces for locals. Rebecca Pauvert said landlord Chuck Porter was good to work with when it came time to terminate the lease.

When the French Bistro resurfaces, Rebecca Pauvert said she and her husband will concentrate on the kind of meal service formerly offered by Pour Vous, with informal seating and gourmet food items to take home.

So long Alpenglo?

The unsolved piece of the puzzle as of this weekend is the fate of the fresh microbrews formerly produced by Steamboat Brewery and Tavern, including the nectar known to locals as "Alpenglo." The brew pub closed Saturday with the brewing equipment pledged to the bank and a gaping hole opening in the Steamboat suds and grub scene.

Partner Joe Walker said this week it would be accurate to say that the financial difficulties of El Rancho Nuevo took the brewery and tavern down with it two weeks ago when the landlord put a padlock on the door for failure to pay back rent. "It was one corporation and one bank loan," Walker explained. "When we lost El Rancho, the tavern wasn't far behind unfortunately. The assets of both restaurants were securing the loan with Vectra (bank). The brewery business has always been strong."

Walker said the restaurants' poorly structured debt couldn't be overcome.

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